Bioengineering Capstone Projects: A Promising Practice in Integrating Universal Design Concepts into Engineering Curriculum

Alyssa Taylor, senior lecturer in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Washington (UW), teaches the second part of a two-quarter long Capstone Design sequence. Motivated to expose her bioengineering students to universal design (UD) and accessibility concepts, she considered how to effectively integrate this topic into her class given constraints such as time, other curriculum requirements, and student expectations for a focus on project-based learning in the class. Alyssa chose an approach that involved an introductory lecture on accessibility and universal design from a UW expert, follow-up reflection, and a team-based assignment that required students to apply universal design concepts to their own Capstone projects.

Early in the quarter, a guest speaker with expertise in accessibility was invited to speak to the students. He covered topics that included demographics, models of disability, the impact of disability on innovation., and accessible/universal design. Afterwards, students were asked to individually reflect on the following prompts: What of what you heard today most resonated with you? Why? How might any of the topics discussed today apply to your own life? 

Students were given a group-based universal design assignment, in which they were asked to (1) answer reflective questions on universal design and its importance and (2) analyze their design concepts regarding how they might already address UD principles. Groups were also asked to brainstorm and identify at least one change they could make to their design concept to make it more universally designed. At the next class session, student teams gave short oral presentations on their reflections and design ideas. Questions posed by the audience led to thought provoking discussions.

Alyssa’s course is a promising practice in integrating universal design and accessibility into an existing project-based undergraduate course. In a relatively small amount of class time, she included content about UD and accessibility in her course in a meaningful way.

For more information about UD read the knowledge base article What is universal design? or consult the Center on Universal Design in Education.

For additional resources on including universal design in curriculum consult, Why is it important to integrate disability, accessibility, and universal design content into engineering courses?,  Universal Design in the Curriculum, and/or view the video Including Universal Design in the Engineering Curriculum